Holy Peak Turning into Garbage Mount

0
430

Sri Pada mountain peak, the 7,360 ft rocky summit, is certainly remarkable because of the religious and cultural beliefs tied with the location. Though the depression in the rocky summit resembles a huge footprint, which has been venerated as a sacred site from remote antiquity, identified by Buddhists as the Buddha’s footprint, by Hindus as that of Shiva, by Muslims and Christians as Adam’s, later the Portuguese attributed it to St. Thomas the Apostle adding holy values to the climb for the thousands of worshipers. The 4,500 steps or 7,360 ft the worshipers hike up to the summit, doesn’t seem like a burden, when compared to the inconvenience faced by pilgrims due to lack of infrastructure.

Ceylon Today inquired about the infrastructure and sanitary facilities in the Sri Pada Peak area, to get a clearer idea about this situation. Maskeliya Pradeshiya Sabha Secretary Siva Ram Rajaweeran, revealed that there are only eight toilets available in Adam’s Peak.

“In addition to the ones I mentioned, hotels/restaurants also provide toilet facilities,” Rajaweeran said. However, Ceylon Today witnessed many pilgrims experiencing discomfort searching for clean and hygienic washrooms along the pilgrimage. Many foreigners refuse any of the above options to relieve themselves until they get back to the self-identified safe lavatory options for more than 12 hours, though it’s unhealthy. The female hikers have no option but to follow the same since there aren’t any options left to at least dispose a sanitary napkin without feeling guilty about it.

In a separate note, though the hikers who joined are classified as young and middle-aged, the majority of the pilgrims who joined the “Siri Pade Nade” were in their fifties or sixties. Most pilgrims use the shrubs on the sides of the path; which is dangerous since the mountain is precarious and most pilgrims are weak, even a simple slip can cost their life.

When we explained about the worst scenarios of some of the toilets that were handed over through tenders, which does not have electricity facilities or other utilities, or are dilapidated, and inquired whether there is a mechanism to check those complaints, Rajaweeran noted that they look into complaints from pilgrims and try their best tosolve them.

Tenders

Ceylon Today inquired about whether these facilities are maintained by government funding or has tenders been awarded for this purpose.

Rajaweeran noted that a company has undertaken this task after paying tender fees, other than that, one public parking lot at the entrance of Adam’s Peak has been handed over on commission basis.

“We have awarded a tender, for which the company pays. They charge money by issuing parking tickets. Due to the Covid-19 pandemic they suffered losses and we also suffered losses when this process was interrupted as we faced difficulties in charging fees. Therefore, we are continuing this process based on commissions. For example, if we sold a ticket worth Rs 100, Rs 75 goes to the Maskeliya Pradeshiya Sabha, and the remaining Rs 25 goes to the relevant company,” he added.

It is further revealed that two toilets were handed over in accordance with the tender procedure and out of the two companies; Harpic provided services free of charge.

When Ceylon Today inquired why there are lesser number of toilets, as one climbs Adam’s Peak he said, “The Ambagamuwa Wildlife Department maintains three toilets. It is the Maskeliya District Secretariat that has handed over that duty to them and there were several plans.

Even though we handled waste management related matters and provided other facilities, tenders regarding the toilets located within such limits are handled by the Wildlife Department. Workers have been employed to clean those toilets and the Adam’s Peak area, during the day and the night. Just like there are workers to charge money, there are people to maintain the place too. Some rest areas built for pilgrims and hikers are dilapidated. The one above Seetha Gangula is being repaired, and it is carried out by the Army and with the pandemic outbreak the repairing work stopped. In this season, more devotees visited the Adam’s Peak than expected. They brought the necessary materials before the beginning of the season; however, they could not finish it during off season. They even considered few special lavatory facilities to be built since that’s hard to build it in a normal way due to the bedrock and it hard to build disposal systems. So, the officials checked some plans where they can dispose waste through pipes but due to the unbearable cost the project proposal was rejected,” he added.

Salaries

Rajaweeran revealed another issue that the Maskeliya Pradeshiya Sabha receives diminutive income. It is with the income that they receive they manage the expenses.

When we inquired whether it means that the Government does not allocate any money for the Sabha to maintain Adam’s Peak.

“The amount allocated for us is Rs 2 million per year, and it is allocated by the Nuwara Eliya District Secretariat. In addition, we get around Rs 3 million per year from the three toilet complexes and the public park which have been awarded to companies through tenders. Also, we issue permits for businesses such as shops and from such businesses, we receive around Rs 300,000. What is more, we get money from Tourist Board-approved hotels. We get one per cent from them, which is equivalent to around Rs 117,000.

There are only two such hotels near Adam’s Peak.  We have 17 workers working in the Adam’s Peak area, and also one supervisor. We pay the workers a sum of Rs 1,200 a day, and around Rs 480, 000 is spent for their salaries a month. Paying their salaries for six months cost around Rs 3 million. Also, five people work in the Ambagamuwa Wildlife Department in Adam’s Peak. These 23 people are in charge of waste management from Nallathanniya town to the Indikatupana area.

This area belongs to the Maskeliya Pradeshiya Sabha. The area above Indikatupana is managed by the Ratnapura Pradeshiya Sabha. In addition, there are other expenses such as fuel expenses. Supervisors’ salaries are paid by the Government, and they are the only permanent employees. Others are temporary labourers, and their salaries are paid by the Sabha’s income and no other funds are received for this purpose. Moreover, there are other forms of expenses such as overtime pay, and equipment (garbage bags and brooms…etc.) related expenses as well. Once a week, we use insecticides to control flies, and around Rs 500,000 are spent for maintenance,” he added.

Garbage and other issues

When Ceylon Today inquired despite of all the funds and provisions allocate to clean the Adam’s Peak, there is so much garbage everywhere along the way, Rajaweeran did not deny the claim.

“I am not saying we clean the area 100 per cent. Hundreds of thousands of people visit the place. When a blockage occurs during the weekends, even the devotees cannot travel freely, and clearing garbage during such times is difficult. As soon as people climbed down the mountain on the weekend, cleaning activities begin from the other end.  We lack labourers and transport services. In addition, labourers do not have adequate accommodation facilities along the path to Adam’s Peak. Since we have limited human resources, cleaning the path at least once or twice a day has been a challenge. Government officials should intervene and increase the resources to expect 100 per cent,” added Rajaweeran.

Rajaweeran further added that though they requested enclosing bins to dispose garbage, the allocated funds weren’t adequate, when pilgrims and hikers dispose garbage into open bins many end up littering the path due to the regular rain and the wind.

In the meantime, the handrails that were used to separate the climbers have not been built in the middle section of the mountain path. This creates a huge congestion in peak seasons and mostly the both climbers and those descending stand in a flight of stairs for more than an hour and half unable to move. Rajaweeran added that though the Army has provided resources and tools for the said developments, the repairs were stopped due to the sudden outbreak of the pandemic.

Rajaweeran noted that though several plans to fix this issue have been negotiated nothing has been finalised.

He further added that even the pilgrims should maintain manners.

“Many carry all type of plastics and leave it in the path to Adam,s Peak, they do not maintain a side to climb and get down, even near the Indikatupana Temple, they have left all the ‘Kodu Packets’ to pile up as garbage everywhere. If they really respect what they worship they wouldn’t do so. Even the leaders should know this is a holy place, yet they charge for water and electricity from the Sabha for even the public lavatories that’s being maintained,” he added. 

There were several unpleasant scenarios worse than Rajaweeran explained when Ceylon Today visited Adams Peak.

It was disgusting as well as astonishing to see some parents leaving their baby’s diapers and stools in the sides of the path and in places that were allocated for the pilgrims and the hikers to rest. Many pilgrims did not even bother to properly dispose plastic bottles and plastic packaging. Even the banks of the Seeth Gangula that is used by the pilgrims to wash off their dirt off before their ascent is littered with used lime peels and turmeric packets.

Used food packets were seen piled up at the Indikatupana Temple premises even though there are several bins placed around the place. Some have even disposed packets and thrown it into the alter while some went to the woods behind the temple to relieve themselves, despite knowing the fact that worshipers can see them. Yet, every temple iron grill that we passed by was filled with offerings tied in clean white cloth.

Ceylon Today was confused whether that’s what is called devotion to the holy mountain or whether the pilgrims are bribing the gods to spare them from the punishments for ruining their shrines and their surroundings.

Story and Pix by Nabiya Vaffoor in Adams Peak